Why I Don't Call Other Black People The "N" Word

Portrait of a African American Soldier in Uniform with flag in background.
Portrait of a African American Soldier in Uniform with flag in background.

During my daily commute to and from work I like to listen to my iTunes when I am not chatting away with my mother on the phone. If you were to take a peek at my playlist you will find an array of artists and musical genre, from Hezekiah Walker to Mary J. Blige, the Band Extreme to the Doobie Brothers all the way to the Notorious B.I.G. and then all the way back to James Cleveland. I admit that my collection of music consists mostly of songs created before 2006.

Recently, as I was traveling to work one of my favorite "get hype" throwback songs came on, Lean Back by Terror Squad. For some reason on this particular day I tuned in to how many times the "N" word is mentioned and it made me think -- should we really be using this word?

Honestly speaking, I had mixed views on the use of the word. I acknowledge that I've used the word to be funny, show endearment, and regrettably, in a derogatory manner.

I was taught, by my parents, that the "N" word is an ignorant person -- male or female, and of any race. And I accept that to be its definition. Even though I don't believe the word is interchangeably related to all Black people, I know I would not like someone calling me that word in a negative way. Furthermore, I know if a non-Black individual called me that word, that person would be introduced to another side of Towanda. Which brings me to this question -- if I am so against being called that word, should I be using it to describe someone else? Or even entertain those who do?

How can we, as Black people, take issue with other races using the word when we are using it ourselves? Isn't that a double-standard? I realize the word was originally used to demean our ancestors -- and if we are completely honest with ourselves, it is still being used to degrade our race. We have given the word a positive spin that is received as a form of bonding and sentiment however, I still wonder if we should be using the word in any connotation.

And here is why -- if we argue or complain about the use of the word by a non-Black person, then turn around and use it ourselves, aren't we talking out of both sides of our mouths? If it is wrong for one particular group to use it, shouldn't it be wrong for every group? In addition to that, I am concerned about how the use of the word affects our older generations.

It occurred to me that I have never heard my father use the word. And after pondering over it, I came to the conclusion as to why. My fraternal grandfather was a sharecropper, and my fraternal grandmother picked cotton and chopped down tobacco in the south. My father talks about the negative experiences and encounters he had with racists growing up. I am sure he heard the word more times than he would care to remember -- and I know it was not in a loving and endearing manner. Considering what my fraternal grandparents did to provide for my father and his three siblings, I am confident they were called niggas.

Further north, my maternal grandmother worked as a maid for White homeowners. My mother has told me stories of her childhood when she would visit downtown Baltimore where she saw signs that read "Whites Only." My mother also told me how her mother had to say "yes ma'am" and "yes sir" to the White children that occupied the homes she cleaned. Do I really want to think about the probability of my grandmother being called that word in a derogatory way? No, I don't.

The fact that my family members -- from generations not too far from mine, were subjected to the disrespect and dehumanizing tone the word originally carried hurts me, and that makes me view the use of the word differently.

As I stated before, our culture has created a "positive" way of using the word but, for this Black woman -- I am choosing to erase it from my vocabulary.